Winter can impact a pet’s health in several ways. Despite their fur, cats, dogs and even small furries can feel the cold just as much as we do.
As temperatures drop it’s important to understand the impact these hazards can have on your four-legged friends health to ensure they remain happy and healthy throughout the season.
Keep an eye out for these hazards during winter
Throughout the winter months, it’s important to ensure your pet receives extra care to prevent any trips to the vets.
Winter brings with it several hazards for both cats and dogs, which include:
In dogs’ hypothermia is low body temperature caused by exposure to the cold. The combination of wet and cold weather is also very dangerous to pets. To prevent hypothermia, avoid extended periods in cold temperatures. Bring outdoor pets inside in low temperatures and use a dog jacket or jumper when on walks. Never leave pets alone in a car in cold weather, as they can act as refrigerators that hold the cold in and can cause animals to freeze to death.
Symptoms of hypothermia include lethargy and listlessness. Try to raise their body temperature using warm blankets, a towel, or a wrapped hot water bottle. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia, get them to the vet asap.
The chemical ethylene glycol, an additive in antifreeze gives the substance its sweet taste. Pets often lick the liquid off garage floors, pathways or roads or their own paws if they’ve been outside. To prevent this from happening, store all household chemicals and antifreeze out of paws reach and make sure you clean up any spills. You can protect your dog or cats’ paws by giving them a wipe when they have been outside.
Coughs and sniffles
Just like humans, dogs and cats can catch a little cold during the winter months. These are usually not serious, and a slight cough, wetter nose or a little fatigue or lethargy can all indicate a minor upper respiratory infection. If you are worried about your pet, or if the symptoms don’t improve after a few days, take them to your vet, especially if they have any pre-existing health conditions.
In very cold weather, if you’re walking your dog, it’s important to keep a close eye on their paws. Ice and snow can stick to the fur between their pads and ball-up. Not only could this be uncomfortable, it also increases the risk of frostbite. If your dog lifts their paws, stops walking or whines, it could be a sign that their paws are too cold. When cold, a dog’s body limits blood flow to their extremities (paws, tail, ears etc) and instead, uses it to keep their vital organs safe and warm.
If you take your dog for walks near a frozen lake, take care when letting them off their lead and keep them close to you. Frozen ponds or lakes can be dangerous. Sharp ice could cut their paws, they could slip over and hurt themselves or they could fall through the ice and drown or develop hypothermia.
Signs of arthritis can seem worse in colder temperatures. If your pet suffers from joint stiffness, it could appear more prominent in winter months. This can be more common in the morning before they’ve warmed up. Joint stiffness can affect your pet’s mobility and can make it particularly difficult for them to perform everyday tasks, such as going on walks or jumping up to their favourite sleeping place on furniture.
Winter weight gain
In cold weather, pets can be less active, with many dogs and cats preferring to stay in the warmth indoors. Getting less exercise in winter means it’s easy for your pet to gain weight. It’s important to keep an eye on their weight and make sure they are not getting more food than they need. Many owners think that pets need extra food in winter months to stay warm, but if they are moving less this is not the case. To prevent your pet from piling on the pounds, make sure they still get plenty of exercise through winter. Take your dog for shorter walks more often if they don’t like the cold. Keep them warm with a dog jumper or coat.
If you are unable to get outside for exercise, you can keep your pet active by playing indoor games with them.
Road grit and salt
Winter brings ice, snow, and rain, which can cause surfaces to become slippery for both you and your dog. Be sure to take extra care when out on walks in colder temperatures. Recently gritted surfaces can be harmful to dogs too. Grit can get stuck in their paws, which causes soreness, redness and may contain salt or other chemicals that can cause irritation. If licked in large enough amounts, the salt found in road grit can be harmful for your dog, so make sure you wipe their paws after walks. You could also use protective booties for your dog in winter months. If you think your dog has eaten rock salt, contact your vet immediately.
Skin and coat health
It’s important to look after pet’s skin and coat health all year around, even in colder months. Regularly brushing your pet will help remove loose hairs, keep your pet’s coat free from dirt and distribute natural skin oils, which help to keep their coat shiny. Regular grooming will also help to reduce hairballs for your cat. Try not to groom them more than once a week to prevent irritation. Over bathing your pet can also lead to dry skin, which can be irritating and cause your pet to itch and scratch more.
If you’re worried about your pet’s health in cold temperatures, contact your vet immediately.